Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
89. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will make separate funding available to Irish Water to install wastewater treatment plants in towns and villages in which no such facility exists and in which housing cannot be built due to this lack of infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46452/21]
I wish to raise an issue relating to Irish Water and its funding. Will a separate funding mechanism be made available to Irish Water to install wastewater treatment plants in towns and villages where no such facility currently exists and where houses cannot be built as a result of this lack of infrastructure? This is an important issue.
I am aware of the demand for wastewater infrastructure in towns and villages where there is no access to public infrastructure, particularly in County Galway, which the Deputy represents, and other areas of the country. Our Department builds its strategic water policy and infrastructure delivery programmes around the national planning framework 2018-2040 and the National Development Plan 2018-2027. Investment is primarily delivered through Irish Water. Our Department operates the rural water programme directly.
The programme for Government supports the uptake of Irish Water's small towns and villages growth programme 2020-2024 which will provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements that would otherwise not be provided for in Irish Water's capital investment plan. The current focus of the programme is on locations within existing public water services infrastructure. Irish Water is subject to independent economic regulation by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. I understand an allocation of €97.5 million from the Department to Irish Water for this programme was approved by the commission.
Complementary to the Irish Water programme, the Department is currently examining wastewater requirements in the context of villages and settlements that do not have public wastewater infrastructure. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has instructed the relevant officials in the Department to prepare a report on this topic at national level. This report will include the analysis of a baseline survey of all rural local authorities to quantify and qualify the number of villages and settlements concerned. This process is at an advanced stage and the Minister will be in a position to consider the matter further in respect of the villages and similar settlements identified in the survey once he has received the final report.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply, but it does not give me confidence that something will be done in the immediate future. Let us take the example of Athenry, a town all present know well. Three years ago, the wastewater treatment plant was expanded to take in additional capacity of all the housing estates in the town. There is a pipe network contract to be completed for that. It was supposed to be finished by now but it has not even started. What I mean by that is that surveys may be under way. The answer I get is that this could be done in 2025, pending funding. At the same time, there are housing estates where raw sewage is flowing around gardens. There is a similar situation in Craughwell, where there is no municipal treatment. I have video footage of people there looking out their back window at raw sewage coming in on top of them. This is an intolerable situation and it is an environmental time bomb. We do not need more reports. Rather, we need to get to the nub of the issue, that is, funding.
I agree with the Deputy regarding the situation in Athenry. It is unacceptable in this day and age that raw sewage could be flowing from people's houses. Our Department will certainly give consideration to that with Irish Water specifically. It is fair to say that Project Ireland 2040 supports the growth of small towns and villages with regard to water services infrastructure. The National Planning Framework 2018-20240 support proportionate growth of rural towns and a programme for new homes in small towns and villages with local authorities and public infrastructure agencies providing serviced sites, appropriate infrastructure to build homes and live in small towns and villages. I assure the Deputy that the particular situation in Athenry will be considered with Irish Water.
I thank the Minister of State for that. He talks about appropriate housing, appropriate ways of doing things and appropriate infrastructure. What about villages such as Abbeyknockmoy and Corofin where there is no municipal treatment plant and where no planning permission will be granted by the local authority or An Bord Pleanála because they say any development in these places is premature, pending the installation of a wastewater treatment plant? When I was a councillor in 2006 or 2007, before Irish Water came into being, there was a list of municipal treatment plants to be built by the local authority. There was a schedule. A feasibility study was done in Corofin. We are now in 2021, going into 2022, and that project is still not on the horizon. The Clare river, which runs right into Galway city, goes through the village. There are six existing housing estates. There is a threat of the village experiencing pollution in the not-too-distant future. We need to see the money coming in and the infrastructure being built.
We expect the report the Minister has commissioned in respect of requirements for smaller villages and settlements that do not have access to public water and wastewater infrastructure to be completed in the coming weeks.
It will be a help to answer the question posed by the Deputy. I appreciate that the preparation of the report includes a broad range of research and consultation with a large number of stakeholders, particularly local authorities. The research element of the report focuses on villages and similar settlements without public wastewater infrastructure in the context of compiling secondary data currently available and existing commitments made by Government to support the sustainable growth of rural economies and communities. At this stage, our Department has reported some high-level analysis of the survey results. These indicate that some 643 villages and similar settlements spread across 25 rural local authorities do not have access to public wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure. That is something we aim to address with Irish Water through the capital investment that we have in place.